The importance of voting in municipal elections
Most members of the Raleigh City Council easily were re-elected Tuesday. The one exception was in northwest Raleigh’s District E, where challenger Stef Mendell ended the night ahead of the incumbent, Bonner Gaylord.
There’s also the guarantee of a new face for one of the council’s at-large seats, but it’s unclear who that might be.
Incumbent Russ Stephensen finished first in the at-large field. Political newcomer Nicole Stewart, 36, came in second in the race for the two at-large seats. But she could be headed for a runoff because she didn’t clear 25 percent of the vote in the crowded field.
The third-place candidate, Stacy Miller, will be able to ask for a runoff with Stewart. Miller won 16.55 percent of the vote.
Stewart works as a fundraiser for the NC Conservation Network. Miller is an attorney. Complicating matters somewhat is that the council member they would replace, Mary-Ann Baldwin, who is stepping down, endorsed them both before the election.
But election night’s biggest surprise was in District E, where the 39-year-old Gaylord, an executive with Kane Realty, the company behind North Hills, was seeking his fifth two-year term on the City Council. He’s an unaffiliated voter.
Gaylord’s challenger, Mendel, had the backing of the Wake County Democratic Party. The 63-year-old is retired from working in the marketing division of GlaxoSmithKline, and she had criticized Gaylord for being too friendly to developers seeking to build new projects in Raleigh.
The threshold for a runoff in that race in 50 percent, and Mendell won 49.67 percent of the vote. Gaylord got 45 percent, and another challenger, Derek Walker, got 4.74 percent.
It wasn’t immeditately clear Tuesday night whether either Gaylord or Miller would request a runoff in their respective races, or if they would concede defeat.
The mayor’s race could also be headed to a runoff, as incumbent Nancy McFarlane also failed to clear 50 percent of the vote in that three-person race.
In all, 24 candidates filed to run for the council, which controls everything from the property-tax rate to development rules. It was the biggest field of candidates since 1999, when 30 people ran and two incumbents lost their seats.
Seven people ran for two at-large seats, including Zainab Baloch, a Muslim woman who made national news last week after one of her campaign signs was vandalized with the word “Trump” and a racial slur. Baloch was running in fifth place.
The other person leading in the at-large race was incumbent Russ Stephenson. Stephenson, 61, is a landscape architect who has been on the council since 2005. A Democrat, he supports more affordable housing and denser downtown development.
In addition to the two at-large seats, the council has five district-level seats. While all the council members vote on all issues affecting the city, these five district seats are picked only by people who live in each specific district.
Residents appear generally happy with the direction of city government, since incumbents didn’t face much of a struggle except for Gaylord.
The unofficial district winners were incumbents Dickie Thompson, David Cox, Corey Branch and Kay Crowder, plus the challenger Mendell.
Thompson, 63, works for his family’s longtime construction business J.M. Thompson Co. A Democrat, he represents North Raleigh and has spoken about the need for bigger roads and more affordable housing.
Crowder, 61, works in marketing for Edward Jones. A Democrat, she represents Southwest Raleigh and has advocated for giving free city bus passes to school-age children.
Cox, 59, is a computer scientist and joined the council in 2015 riding a wave of anti-growth sentiment in Northeast Raleigh, which he represents. An unaffiliated voter, he has been skeptical of new commercial development.
Branch, 39, works for AT&T and is the only black person on the city council. A Democrat, he represents Southeast Raleigh and has advocated for more public transit options.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
At-large seats (top 2 vote-getters win)
Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi: 11.46 percent
Rob Axtell: 1.99 percent
Zainab Baloch: 11.02 percent
Stacy Miller: 16.55 percent
Russ Stephenson (i): 28.26 percent
Nicole Stewart: 23 percent
Robert E. Ward IV: 7.52 percent
108 of 108 precincts reporting
Alex Moore: 32.64 percent
Dickie Thompson (i): 66.8 percent
29 of 29 precincts reporting
David Cox (i): 68.08 percent
John Odom: 31.58 percent
18 of 18 precincts reporting
James G. Bledsoe: 3.24 percent
Corey Branch (i): 87.05 percent
Crash Gregg: 3.69 percent
Jeff Stewart: 2.13 percent
Olen Watson: 3.59 percent
19 of 19 precincts reporting
Kay Crowder (i): 89.92 percent
B.J. Plott: 9.04 percent
20 of 20 precincts reporting
Bonner Gaylord (i): 45 percent
Stef Mendell: 49.67 percent
Derek Walker: 4.74 percent
22 of 22 precincts reporting